PATRICK NDEGWA: 2023 will be the year of the great Internet expansion

Patrick Ndegwa, SEACOM Business Sales Lead for SEACOM East Africa

Patrick Ndegwa, SEACOM Business Sales Lead for SEACOM East Africa

As we move into 2023, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this year will be marked by a significant expansion of the Internet in Africa – and Uganda in particular. Businesses and governments all over the world are turning to digital technologies to drive economic growth and socioeconomic development. The same is true for Uganda, where more and more resources are being allocated towards improving Internet access and infrastructure.

The government has been making significant efforts to improve Internet connectivity in the country for several years. In 2013, the National Backbone Infrastructure project became operational, with the aim to improve Internet connectivity across the country. The government’s efforts to provide households with cheap smartphones has also helped increase mobile activity and Internet penetration rates in the country. And, while Uganda’s Internet penetration rate stood at only 29.1% at the start of 2022, the number of Internet users increased by a massive 1.8 million (or 15%) between 2021 and 2022.

In addition to the government’s efforts to improve the Internet penetration rate, private companies, such as SEACOM, are also expanding their networks to Uganda. This is leading to better services and lower costs for consumers due to the increased competition in the telecommunications market. However, the benefits of increased Internet penetration extend far beyond just improved services and lower costs for consumers. To fully understand the potential impact, let us first look at the fibre infrastructure, government projects, and private sector investments that have shaped the state of the Internet in Uganda today.

Looking back

The history of the Internet in Uganda can be traced back to the early 2000s, when the East African region began to see its first significant investments in telecommunications infrastructure. By 2007, the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) connected East Africa to the global Internet for the first time, providing the country with high-speed, low-latency connectivity that is essential for the growth of the digital economy. As Internet usage in Uganda began to grow rapidly, the government launched its first National Backbone Infrastructure Project with the aim of providing citizens in all major towns (as well as government departments) with a connection to an optical fibre cable network.

Over the years, continued investments in data infrastructure, by both public and private entities, have led to a significant expansion of the optical fibre network in Uganda. In 2021, it spanned around 12,000 km and covered 49% of the districts in the country. But, despite making meaningful progress in the last two decades, effective Internet coverage remains limited to major urban centres. Most rural areas in Uganda continue to be underserved, which greatly limits citizens’ access to government services. It also hinders their ability to develop digital skills needed for today’s job market or participate in the digital economy as a whole.

The impact of the Internet

The expansion and improvement of data infrastructure in Uganda has been a crucial factor in the country’s economic development, with the ICT sector’s contribution to the GDP increasing from 2.5% in 2015 to a significant 9% in 2022. The sector is also a major source of employment, providing jobs for over two million people, with direct employment accounting for around one million of these. Furthermore, the ICT sector has become an important and much-needed source of employment for young people, with many engaging in activities such as running ICT hubs, reselling value-added services, and developing ICT innovations.

The improved data infrastructure is also driving the adoption of ICT services and radically transforming industries, such as government service delivery and the financial sector. For example, the use of digital channels in financial services has been on a steady rise, as seen in the growth of mobile payments, online banking, and digital wallets in Africa. As of September 2020, there were 27.7 million registered mobile money accounts in Uganda, which equates to a penetration rate of at least two registered accounts for every three Ugandans.

The deployment of fibre networks and data centres will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in the overall digital transformation of the country. These national infrastructure projects help provide businesses with the connectivity they need to take advantage of the latest 4IR technologies, such as cloud computing, IoT, and other software-based services. Ultimately, the only businesses that utilise these new technologies will be able to enhance their operations, boost productivity, and expand into new markets.

A more connected future

I fully expect 2023 to be the year of great Internet expansion in Uganda. With the continued efforts of the government and private companies, we can expect to see a significant increase in Internet penetration, which will bring a range of benefits to businesses, government agencies, and citizens. We can expect to see high-speed and low-latency fibre connectivity becoming increasingly affordable and accessible across the country. Businesses should ensure they take advantage of this infrastructure expansion by finding a trusted Internet service provider that can help them get their digital infrastructure off the ground.


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